Belfast Harbour Navigates Covid-19 Disruption with Solid Annual Results in 2020

Performance shows resilience of Belfast Harbour and contribution to NI’s economic recovery

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Belfast Harbour has reported a solid financial performance in 2020, despite the unprecedented challenge that the Covid-19 pandemic has created for global and local trade.

Releasing its annual results, Belfast Harbour reported turnover of £62.8 million, marginally down by 4.7% on the previous year and underlying pre-tax profit of £30.1 million, down by just 3.8%.  EBITDA of £42.2 million was in fact, 0.6% ahead of the year before. 

In the face of the disruption caused by the pandemic to daily life, trade remained strong during the year, with 23.5 million tonnes of cargo passing through the port, compared with 24 million tonnes a year earlier.

The port’s trade levels in late 2020 were impacted by businesses preparing for the end of the Brexit transition period.  Stockpiling in the last six weeks of 2020 boosted trade figures and off-set some of the pandemic related impacts from earlier in the year. 

In 2020, £43.2 million was invested in port facilities and estate projects (up 3.6% on the prior year), including major upgrades to Belfast Harbour’s ferry (VT2) and container (VT3) terminals.  These investments support Belfast Harbour’s Trust Port purpose to maintain, operate and develop the Port, and further advance its ambition of becoming the world’s best regional port.

During the year, construction continued on City Quays 3, a 16-storey £50 million investment, which will be Northern Ireland’s largest Grade ‘A’ office building when completed in Q4 2021.  Construction also began on the development of a £25 million office building known as Olympic House which is co-developed with Titanic Quarter.

Planning approval was received during the year for a major expansion of Belfast Harbour Studios – which welcomed its first production from Netflix in 2020.  The additional studio space will support further growth in the local film industry, allowing it to tap into the buoyant global demand for high quality film and television production space and generate quality jobs and economic growth.  Construction of the next development phase of the studios is currently undergoing a tender process. 

At year end, Belfast Harbour had a committed pipeline of £87.4 million of strategically significant projects that will help deliver its vision for the future. In the past 10 years Belfast Harbour has invested over £250 million in port infrastructure and estate regeneration. This investment was self-funded as Belfast’s Harbour’s status as a Trust Port means all profits are reinvested back into developing the Port for the benefit of customers and the wider economy. 

Commenting on the results for 2020, Belfast Harbour’s Chairman, David Dobbin, said the Port remained on a strong financial footing and had successfully weathered the Covid-19 crisis.

“Without doubt, 2020 was one of the most challenging years in recent memory with the Covid-19 pandemic impacting on every part of our society. I am pleased to report that Belfast Harbour’s crisis and mitigation plans worked well throughout the pandemic, allowing us to keep the Port open on a 24/7 basis throughout the entire crisis, with service and trade uninterrupted, and to deliver a solid set of results. This is testament to the hard work and commitment of our staff and the entire port community, to whom I want to express my heartfelt thanks.

“Despite the impact of Covid-19 on port trade and estate activity, turnover and profit both remained healthy and during the year Belfast Harbour was able to invest more than £40 million on port facilities and estate projects. We are a Trust Port, which means that we reinvest our all profits in port infrastructure and regeneration projects that benefit everyone in Northern Ireland.  Belfast Harbour’s ambitious investment programme in socially and economically significant projects for the region continues to transform our Port and Iconic Waterfront areas, truly creating a Port for Everyone.”

Joe O’Neill, Chief Executive of Belfast Harbour said:

“In spite of the unprecedented challenges during 2020, Belfast Harbour produced a solid and resilient financial performance. Initial impacts from Covid-19 were substantially recovered by most trade sectors by the fourth quarter of the year and we are encouraged by the levels of trade seen in the first half of 2021.

“The drop in overall revenues in 2020 largely reflected the impact on tourism and leisure traffic, notably from cruise ships, and partial closure of the AC by Marriott Hotel and NCP car park. It will take some time before our cruise, tourist and leisure activities return to pre-crisis levels but as restrictions on the movement of people and leisure travel are eased we have already started to see more passengers travelling on the Port’s ferry services and a resumption of cruise ship visits.”

He added: “Our vision is to be the world’s best regional port and to create an iconic waterfront for the city, developing a thriving and innovative economic hub that benefits the community and makes Belfast Harbour a place people want to live, work, visit and invest.  We have ambitious plans for the year ahead and continue to work with our customers and key partners to ensure we are playing our part in driving the growth and recovery of our local economy.”